Maybe you’ve been in an elevator and the number four has been omitted? Or been told you need to eat long noodles on your birthday? Perhaps in a meeting, your counterparts suddenly became very uncomfortable with the position of the table and chairs? China is famous for its many superstitions, and while it is true they are rarely followed to the letter, they still remain widespread across the country. Superstition and business are heavily intertwined so your understanding of them can sometimes be the difference between success and failure. With this in mind here are seven Chinese superstitions every foreigner should know.
Don’t predict sickness or the possibility of death
Don’t predict sickness or the possibility of death for yourself or anyone else, even in jest. The Chinese are very sensitive about this, especially during the Spring and Qingming Festivals. If you do happen to do this by accident, especially if it’s about others, then you might be required to say 呸呸呸 (pēi pēi pēi) to the corner of the room to dispel the bad luck.
The number four
The number four is considered very unlucky because it is strongly associated with death. Four 四 (sì) sounds like 死 (sǐ) which means ‘die’. Many elevators, offices and hotels omit the number four completely. Therefore you should avoid arranging business meetings and events at 4 pm. If you’re booking a Chinese client or associate into a hotel avoid booking them onto the fourth floor or into a room with the number four in it. Chinese Superstitions
The character 福
The character 福 (fú) “happiness” is one of the most visible symbols in China. You may have seen it decorated on people’s houses and businesses during the Spring Festival. One thing many don’t notice is that they’re invariably stuck upside down. This is because the characters for ‘upside down’ and ‘arrive’ are homonyms, so fú upside down sounds like “happiness has arrived”. If you see one during this festive period, you can say ”fú dàole” to bring the person you are with good luck!
Fengshui is a philosophical system that relies on spatial placements of objects in order to balance the flow of energy (qì), enabling you to be more productive and prosperous. A Fengshui master must be employed to do this correctly which is normally an expensive process. Therefore it is more widespread in companies than the general population.
When Chinese business people go abroad, they rarely expect companies to adhere to Fengshui and would never comment on the condition of your office. However, there are some small steps you can take to optimise your office or meeting room to make your Chinese guests more comfortable.
- Do not seat Chinese people at the corner of the table because this is seen as ominous in relation to their general well being. This is one of the main reasons why Chinese people prefer round tables.
- Water is the most powerful symbol of money in Fengshui. If possible seat your guests in a position where they can see water.
- Do not seat any guests directly in line with the door as this is seen as the path of negative energy.
Fish are auspicious
Fish are considered lucky because the Chinese for surplus – 余 and the Chinese for fish – 鱼, are both pronounced yú. For this reason, fish is usually ordered during business dinners so if you are hosting it is a good idea to order one. Chinese Superstitions
Never give a clock as a gift
In Chinese, ‘giving a clock’ 送钟 (sòng zhōng) sounds like the Chinese words for ‘attending a funeral ritual’ 送终 (sòng zhōng). Additionally, giving a clock is also a sign that time is running out; therefore, the end of a relationship or life are the messages that such gifts are associated with.
The number eight
The number eight is considered very lucky and is strongly associated with wealth and prosperity. Eight 八 (bā) sounds similar to 发 (fā) which means prosperity and wealth. The numbers six and nine are also considered lucky. For example, the Bank of China’s listing code on the Shanghai Stock Exchange is 601988.
So how seriously do Chinese people take these superstitions? Some are adamant about obeying them. Others don’t follow them closely but rather view them as a part of their traditional culture. As with good manners and dinner etiquette, learning and respecting Chinese superstitions will help you build long-term relationships.